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Last week the public was told that the Winograd Commission's interim report on the conduct of last summer's Lebanese conflict, expected on March 27, will include no "personal recommendations."
Moreover, no "warnings will be issued" to top brass, thereby lowering the likelihood of eventual stringent conclusions.
Perhaps to offset that impression, we're now informed that the conclusions will be "very harsh" and that "no one in the upper echelons will emerge unscathed."
What are we to believe? It's almost immaterial.
Neither of the above predictions is official and authorized. Both, like many others, emanate from leaks. These so abound of late that the commission now "threatens" to plug them by "advancing the report's publication date" - another leak. The fact that the commission operates behind closed doors, and that all 72 witnesses who appeared before it testified behind a screen of confidentiality, obviously constitutes an incentive to leak tendentiously.
In principle, of course, keeping the citizenry in the dark negates the commission's raison d'etre - to uncover what went wrong, expose errors and name those responsible. Meretz MK Zahava Gal-On petitioned against the commission's blanket secrecy in January and elicited a Supreme Court "recommendation" that the proceedings be opened up and the hearing transcripts be released, with the exception of material that is deemed harmful to national security. Though the commission announced its readiness to publish pertinent transcripts, declarations of intent and implementation are different matters. To date, not a single transcript has seen light, something that led Gal-On to turn to the court yet again and demand the publication of hearings prior to March 27.
The commission's response was to reaffirm its good intentions but claim that only this week will military censorship officers begin combing through material. Nothing, however, prevented the commission from starting the process many weeks ago. The ensuing absurdity is that while leaks proliferate, hearings remain under wraps. The right of the public to know is contravened and certainly isn't served by selective and self-servicing trickles of disinformation.
Not only don't leaks help reveal the truth, they foment redundant controversy. Conventional wisdom judges the most recent leaks as beneficial to Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who appointed the commission in lieu of the judicial state inquiry for which public opinion clamored but whose formation Olmert systematically opposed.
In Olmert's testimony before the commission - according to leaks - he dismissed suggestions that the Lebanese campaign was ill-prepared, by asserting that blueprints for it were drawn long in advance. He, moreover, passed the buck for the appointment of a totally inexperienced defense minister to Labor for nominating Amir Peretz.
These leaks drew fire immediately. The reverberating question was that if the campaign's dismal results are the product of careful planning, what would a surprise confrontation yield? Laborites, additionally, were up in arms by the implication that they're to blame for Peretz's appointment, noting that when Olmert didn't want Peretz as finance minister, he resolutely imposed his will.
Such backbiting could be avoided were the public given a full picture instead of a superfluously distorted one.
It's impossible to fathom that this commission's deliberations are deemed more sensitive than those of the Agranat Commission, which probed the Yom Kippur War; the Kahan Commission, which investigated Sabra and Shatilla; or the Orr Commission on the October 2000 riots. They were state commissions and held open proceedings, except where military secrets were involved (which nobody dared give away, as, in the case of state commissions, that's tantamount to violating court orders).
The current free-for-all was born of the fact that the Winograd Commission isn't a state inquiry. Yet precisely because it was hand-picked by the very premier whose conduct is under its scrutiny, this commission owes itself and the public at least a modicum of transparency. Otherwise it undermines further its already suspect legitimacy. Public trust is too valuable a commodity to squander and at this juncture it requires particular reassurance and restoration.